Dear Dr. Graham:

I’m struggling with a personnel problem. I’ve spent much of 2018 introducing an organizational culture change — a shift from top-down leadership with several layers of management to a flatter organization that relies on self-managing teams. I’m pleased to report that the change has had a positive impact on employee satisfaction scores, and our turnover rates are much lower now. However, one area of our company hasn’t changed at all.

That area is led by a person I have known and liked for decades. He is a good person. He is loyal. He is a master in his subject matter. However, despite all the training and support we’ve provided for him this year, I’m still getting feedback from multiple directions that he hasn’t changed the way he is managing his team. His team, which includes several high-potential employees, is tremendously frustrated, and his peers don’t even want to have meetings with him anymore.  

My problem is that I feel very loyal to this person. He’s trying so hard! I just don’t think it’s in his wheelhouse to change his leadership style. How do I handle this in a fair way for everyone?

— Hesitant senior leader

Dear Hesitant,

I admire your loyalty to this leader (I’ll call him Mr. X), and I understand your high regard for him. There’s certainly a process to work through with any employee who is not meeting expectations, and it sounds like you have spent a year completing that process. You’ve concluded that this leader’s skill set is not a fit for his current position, but it sounds as though he has many redeeming qualities and strong technical skills. I agree that it is important to honor the contributions of long-time, loyal employees, so my suggestions below progress from most ideal to least ideal:

1. Reach out to HR and/or to your peer leaders to explore the possibility of moving Mr. X to a new job that is a better fit. Does another area of the company need someone with his skills and deep level of company knowledge? If this option isn’t possible . . .

2. Perhaps it makes sense to create an individual contributor role that allows Mr. X to stay on as a technical expert. Such a role will be a demotion (and disappointment) for him, but he may actually be relieved to give up the leadership role with which he is struggling. If this option isn’t possible . . .

3.  It’s time to talk about a severance package. You can work with HR to create a package that feels fair to you. It would certainly be appropriate to offer Mr. X help in finding a new job through outplacement services. If he’s willing to pursue a position that’s a good fit for him, you might also consider sharing your contacts with him.

Sometimes good leaders must make really hard decisions. It may help you make this hard decision if you remember that the longer you let this go on, the more everyone will suffer – including the very person you like so much and are trying to protect. In the end, leaving an ineffectual leader in place is not fair to that leader, his team, or the company as a whole.

If you are ready to Lead at a Higher Level, consider joining my Facebook group to interact with other like-minded leaders. If you know someone in a similar scenario as “Hesitant senior leader” that could find my suggestions helpful, forward this email to your colleague (Thank you!). You may also submit questions for me to address in future newsletters here.  

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